8 Seasons to Glory

As the famous anthem goes:

Die meister,
die besten,
les grandes équipes,
the champions

And Arsenal finish season 2023/24 as all conquering champions.

After Manchester United were dispatched 5-0 on aggregate in the quarter-finals we were given a relatively good draw in Benfica for the semis. It was actually much closer than expected. We won the first leg 3-1 at home and Benfica took an early lead in the Estadio da Luz (which means Stadium of Light but it’s a long way from Sunderland). They then proceeded to pass up two great chances and John van Heulen was at his best to deny them the 2nd goal that would’ve put them through on away goals. A late equaliser from Isaac Adam gave us a 4-2 aggregate win. Then, the final.

Manchester City were our opponents, who had lost to their city rivals in the previous seasons final. After a cagey first half, with few chances, I decided to read the riot act to my players at half-time and it had the desired effect as an Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain double and Mathias Simoncelli’s 53rd goal of the season sealed a 3-0 win.

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The Champions League was added to the FA Cup, which we won the week before with a 4-0 win over Everton, the Premier League and the Community Shield to complete a memorable quadruple.

Simoncelli cleaned up at the player of the year awards, winning:

  • FWA Footballer of the Year
  • PFA Player of the Year
  • PFA Young Player of the Year
  • Barclays Team of the Season
  • Barclays Top Goalscorer
  • Arsenal Fans Player of the Season
  • Arsenal Fans Young Player of the Season

And I assume he’s going to win the European Golden Boot as well.

What to do next? Well I’ve enjoyed the save, and the challenge, so I’m going to keep going. My contract is about to expire at Arsenal so I’ll leave the Gunners as there’s not much else to achieve here. I think I’d like to take a smaller team to glory. The dream would be to return to Siena and win Serie A (or even the Champions League?) but right now they have a ‘secure’ manager. I think I may just kick about and see what comes up. Maybe wait for a nice little challenge in Germany as I’ve never managed there before.

The Meaty End of Season 8

As Ronnie safely negotiates the group stages of his first crack at the Champions League I find myself in my 2nd consecutive UCL quarter final. Since my last update our record, in all competitions, reads:

WWWLWWWWDWWWWWWLWWWWW

It’s been a remarkable run that has seen us move 9 points clear at the top of the Premier League although, disappointingly, that second defeat was in the final of the League Cup. Man City got revenge on the 4-0 pumping we gave them in the final last season by deservedly beating us 2-1. I was undefeated since joining Arsenal in the League Cup so it was a shame to lose that record, I was also surprised to learn that Arsenal have only ever won the LC twice in real life. Who knew? I have a chance to rectify the loss as we will play Man City in the FA Cup semi-final.

The league form has been relentless. The run includes victories away to Liverpool (who were 2nd at the time) and away Man Utd and the gap we’ve established, with only 7 games to go, means we can fully concentrate on the Champions League. In the Champions League we dispatched Celta Vigo 6-1 on aggregate and were rewarded with a QF tie against fucking Manchester United.

I’m updating after the first leg which we won 4-0 at home so revenge for last seasons semi-final defeat is definitely on the cards. By the end of this season we’ll have played United 12 times in only 3 seasons, this isn’t Scotland, by the way. The current record stands at:

P10 W6 D1 L3 F14 A7

So that’s where I’m at. Mathias Simoncelli has now scored 46 goals in 37 appearances this season and broken all Arsenal single-season scoring records. I’ve, so far, refused to sign a new contract and I’m likely to leave the Gunners at the end of the season. Hopefully, as a Champions League winner.

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Season 10, and my first crack at the Champions League

John managed to reach the Champions League by season 7 and now, 3 seasons later, I’ve got a chance to prove myself against Europe’s biggest and best. I suspect this will not go well.

Pre-season

In the three pre-seasons I’ve had at Montpellier, I’ve spent £82m, £37.5m, and now £46.5m. This year sees the least amount of players arriving. Quality over quantity, innit?

In come Sergej Milinkovic SavicOscar HiljemarkEmre CanJean-Philippe Gbamin, and Fernando Jiménez.

These are the signings that I hope will allow us to compete across the 5 tournaments in which we’re expected to perform.

  • Trophée de Champions – despite not winning anything last year, we seem to be in the French equivalent of the Charity Shield. The board don’t care about it, and neither do I
  • Coupe de la Ligue – the board want us to reach the Semi Final of the French SKOL Cup
  • Coupe de France – again, we’re expected to reach the Semi Final of this cup
  • UEFA Champions League – reaching the first Knockout Round is the expectation here. I guess this will depend a lot on the draw we get
  • Ligue 1 – qualification for the Champions League is the target.

I realise that pre-season results don’t tell you much, but I’m happy with what we manage to do in the summer of 2025. Lots of green circles in here, as we reach the first real game of the season and the Trophée de Champions tie against Paris Saint-Germain.

Unfortunately, that game sees our first defeat of the season, a 1-0 that we probably just deserved to lose.

Our first 10 league games are nothing to write home about. Our form’s patchy, and we’re a bit off the pace.

DLDWWDWLWW

During this time though, I’m paying a bit more attention to our Champions League form than the domestic league. The group draw wasn’t too bad, and we see ourselves lining up against Atlético MadridSL Benfica, and Celtic. As a Rangers fan, if nothing else, I’ve got to try and beat Celtic, haven’t I?

First up is the home leg against Benfica. It’s not a great start to my Champions League adventure, and we go down 1-0, deservedly so.

Next up, is the away tie against Celtic, and we head to Celtic Park knowing that we probably have to get something from it to progress. We’re helped by the fact that Celtic get a man sent off in the 34th minute for a shocker of a tackle and, truthfully, we only get the 2nd in the 2-0 victory in injury time. But we deserved that win.

A home game against group favourites Atlético Madrid follows. We win 2-0 in a game that we dominate, and it’s probably the best we’ve played all season. We lose 1-0 in the reverse fixture, but other results mean that we’re 2nd in the group and, with 2 games to go, qualification to the next stage is in our own hands.

Benfica are up next, and we travel to Portugal, dispatch them 3-0, and head home, dusting our shoulders.

Our final group stage game is at home to Celtic, and we comfortably beat them 4-1.

And with that, we’re through to the first Knockout Round of our first shot at the Champions League. The board are chuffed.

Now, about the domestic form…

Ligue 1, league glory?

Ligue 1 is the big one, right? It’s one that we all want to win. We’re going to give it a bloody good shot.

We’re looking for a lot from our pre-season signings this year. There’s no chaff; it’s all wheat (kinda), and I expect them to step into the team and take us up a level. And they do, by and large.

We emerge from August and September without having lost a game. A 0-0 and a 1-1 against Toulouse and OGC Nice are the only blots on our early season copybooks.

If I’m being honest, the first big challenge comes in October against PSG, and we fail, losing 2-0. Even worst than that though is that we’d lost the previous game against Havre Athletic Club, too. The rest of October and November are patchy, so that by the time we hit December our form is a bit mixed.

WWDWWWDLLWWLD

December is a bit better, with 3 wins and 2 losses, meaning that we reach the midway point of the season (after an early January win against Olympique Lyonnais) in 4th place.

The new year (2025!) sees a bit of an upturn in form, and we reach the end of February having dropped only 4 points from a possible 18. That sees us leapfrog OGC Nice into 3rd place, with only regular table-toppers PSG and AS Monaco ahead of us.

A few matches later and all three of us are tied on 61 points. And we’re 2nd on goal difference.

A win at Stade Malherbe Caen, is followed by two draws against AS Monaco and FC Nantes, which bookend a couple of victories against Stade Rennais FC and FC Metz. As the league reaches its conclusion, AS Monaco have dropped further points and we’re tied at the top with Paris Saint-Germain.

And so, it comes down to the final game of the season. We go into it having dropped a couple of points and sit on 78, while PSG have 80.

We’re playing En Evant de Guingamp (aren’t we always?) while PSG take on Toulouse. Both of these team are hovering around the bottom half of the table, so the expectation is that we both win.

We win 2-0. Our Shearer and Sutton combo of Simeone and Sandro score a goal each, and I watch the Latest Updates panel as both goals are going in. As the clock creeps towards the 90, PSG are drawing 0-0 (did I mention they’d lost their previous game?) and I can only hope that Toulouse grab a late winner.

But they don’t. It finishes goalless.

We finish 2nd, beaten by goal difference.

Gutted.

On a positive note, next season will see me try my hand at the Champions League for the first timel

Season 8 – 1st Half

So, another season, another stab at the Champions League. The summer transfer window saw little action. As champions I felt the squad was pretty good with a few ‘wonderkids’ ready to step up and get more game time. Alex Kalisse was the subject of a £105m bid from Atletico Madrid but I see him edging out 33-year-old Aaron Ramsey this season so the bid was rejected and a new contract agreed. Fending off interest from other teams was the biggest challenge of the summer as Isaac Adam, Nathanial Cook, John Moore, Mathias Simoncelli, Lucas Digne, Hector Bellerin and Alain Mbia were all targeted by clubs so we had to renew most of their contracts to keep them. The only major transfer in was 18-year-old wonderkid Andres Guerrero from Cruz Azul for £18.75m. He can play D(C), DM, M (C), ST (C) so is an excellent, and useful, prospect to have in the squad. There were £53m worth of transfers out but mostly talented youngsters you I couldn’t find a place in the squad for.

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The summer also saw me interviewed for the Barcelona job but for the 2nd time in 2 years they decided to go with someone else. It’s beginning to become quite clear that they don’t like the cut of my jib.

Domestic

The season started with another trophy as we retained the Community Shield with a 3-0 win over Liverpool. The league campaign started reasonably well with 6 wins in our first 7 games, our only blot coming in a 2-1 defeat away to Chelsea. The run ended when Newcastle beat us 1-0 but so far they have been our only league defeats of the season.

At one point it looked like the title race  might be much closer than last season with 6 teams separated by just 5 points after about 15 games but it has stretched out a bit in the last few matches. We currently sit a point ahead of Liverpool with a game in hand and Manchester United are a further 4 points back but they have played two less than us due to their participation in the World Club Championship, again. Although not miles back, none of the teams below United have shown the consistency to make a charge in the second half of the season.

In the League Cup we are into our 3rd successive semi-final after a pretty easy run of fixtures that saw us defeat Brighton, Burnley and West Brom. Swansea await us in the semi and we have an FA Cup 3rd round tie against Scunthorpe coming up pretty soon. I’ve yet to get past the 4th round of the FA Cup so hoping to improve that unimpressive run this season.

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Europe

Our Champions League group was one full of narrative as I was drawn alongside my old club, Lazio, and my boyhood heroes, Celtic. Atletico Madrid were the 4th team in what looked like a horror group for Celtic. We made heavy weather of the group and put ourselves in trouble by losing 2 of our first 3 matches. A 3-2 defeat to Lazio and a 2-1 defeat to Atletico, both away, sandwiched a comfortable 3-0 home win over The Bhoys. Although we had a lot of work to do we knew we had Atletico and Lazio at home and that made the difference as we beat them 3-0 and 3-2, respectively. We still had to beat Celtic in the final game to win the group as Lazio and Atletico played in Rome to see who would join us in the last 16. Both ourselves and Atletico won 3-0 to wrap up qualification for the knockout rounds.

Even before the draw was made there were not a lot of potential opponents that would worry us. We couldn’t draw Atletico or Chelsea which basically left Napoli and Borussia Dortmund as the teams to avoid, and avoid them we did as we were drawn to play Celta Vigo. Looking at the draw though the next round is likely to be full of the big boys but, if you want to win the cup with the big ears, that’s who you have to beat.

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Mathias Simoncelli has been the stand out performer so far this season. As I play 1 through the middle I like to have 2 strikers and rotate them as much as possible with, hopefully, a youngster available in emergencies. Unfortunately Andrew Smith got a bad injury on international duty with England and was out for 4 months and Simoncelli has really stepped up. He’s currently on 30 goals from 23 starts with 22 of those coming from only 16 Premier League starts. He’s bang on course to beat Thierry Henry’s league record of 30 goals in a single season. It is also the Arsenal record for goals in a season within the save and it’s still only December. Smith is close to full fitness but he’s really going to struggle to get anywhere near the pitch.

As always I don’t expect much transfer business in January but, again, plenty of our players and attracting interest from the vultures. Shkodran Mustafi, Daigo Miki (he can go if he wants), Lucas Digne, Andres Guerrero, Adrien Silva, Alex Kalisse, and Simoncelli are all wanted by other clubs so I’ll probably spend most of my time renegotiating contracts again.